FULL TEXT OF MY PR NEWS INTERVIEW:
What are some of the most effective ways that PR execs can use visual storytelling right now?
Embed visualization into the culture of your business! Whether you’re a single-person or a large agency, there must be a commitment to visualizing information. Making complex infographics can take time and money to produce and may require input from a variety of people (researchers, sales personnel, database managers, department heads, writers, data visualizers, artists, designers, etc.), some of whom don’t want to be bothered. Often, a manager will assign a single, lonely, unfortunate person the job of creating infographics for the firm and offer them little or no human or financial support, leaving them to their own ingenuity to get graphics made. This can lead to frustration and, well, really bad graphics.
Why is that?
Doing just about anything on the cheap is a recipe for disaster, and graphics are no different. I guarantee that creating miserly graphics will result in ugly and wrong or irrelevant information and will make your business look very bad. Remember, the damage can be widespread because more people will engage with a visual than will read a press release because it’s just easier to look at something than it is to read it.
Creating graphics is often a team effort, but who wants extra work? A writer who’s been asked to help with a graphic may respond, “Come back later when I’m done with the press release.” But many graphics take a lot more time to produce than writing a press release, so making someone wait is counterproductive. Then, when the writer is finished with their verbal masterpiece, they may say, “Everything you need to make your (not our) graphic is in the press release.” “Really? Did the press release list 25 years of sales data needed for the line chart?” Hardly.
This catch-as-catch-can environment for visualizing information results in people being forced to engage in what I call the “Bumbling Bs” for getting an infographic made:
You don’t want to be a Bumbling Bs company. It’s Bad Business (two more Bs!). Creating visuals must be woven into the culture, as routine as writing a press release, and this comes from having total support at the top!
Do PR pros need to cultivate designers and people familiar with using visuals to help tell a story in-house, or does it make more sense to outsource these roles?
If you can, train an in-house designer who is familiar with your branding to create visuals but realize that many designers cannot do things like visualizing complex data sets or drawing (like a 3D floor plan), so you may have to go outside. Remember that the graphic you are putting out to the world is an ambassador for your firm or client, and how well or poorly it communicates and how good or awful it looks will reflect back on you. Give the designer the support he or she needs, like:
- Talking and listening to them
- Including them in all meetings
- Freeing them up from other work to get the visualization done
- Motivating someone they’re working with who is stalling
- Getting them the right software programs to work with and training them in their use
- Bringing in an outside illustrator to do a drawing or data visualizer to make charts and maps.
How can PR execs better integrate visuals into their written materials, such as press releases, brochures, annual reports?
The first thing they can do is to scour all of those text-based materials for opportunities for visualizing information (you can link to the webinar I did on this for PR Newswire). Some will be obvious when things like numbers and locations are mentioned, but others may not be so obvious.
Then, carve out space in those publications to make room for your graphic(s). Too many people are in LOVE with all of their words and are loathe to trim a single one of them. Get over it. Realize that your audience wants to be engaged in different ways, and reading a ton of text can be like homework, if they read it at all.
Consider these four things when making visualizations:
- Need. Ask why making a visual is better than writing about the topic. Visual people in the firm should be asked to share their thoughts and offerings as a routine part of all planning and brainstorming meetings.
- Idea. What is the best way to visually communicate this information that will engage our audience. What’s the tone? Serious, light-hearted, etc.
- Content. Graphics often require more detailed content, like numbers, than an article. Make sure you have all the information you need to produce the graphic in front of you before you begin your design.
- Design. Too may people think they know when something looks great and force the person working on the design to do it their way. (It just HAS to be made with Comic Sans! Yuk.) LISTEN to the designer, don’t dictate to them what they should do.If you can’t work with a designer, here are some rules of thumb:
- Grid: Structure your layout with a grid
- Color: Use color sparingly and purposefully
- Fonts: Use just one or two fonts
- Type: Use different sizes of type to help your audience navigate the content.
- Size: Make important elements larger so the reader understands what’s important.
I have more design tips here in this Huffington Post article I recently wrote. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-gude/seven-design-tips-for-mak_b_2152724.html
Now, go forth and do great visual storytelling!
My latest Huffington Post article talks about how we need five communication literacies to capture and hold people’s attention in a pretty communication-saturated world .
A sketch I made of what the audience looked like from our perspective: everyone sitting forward, but looking to my upper left at the Twitter feed as we spoke.
It’s disconcerting to speak on a panel to hundreds of people at the South by Southwest conference in Austin and have almost NO ONE looking at or listening to you!. You theatrically pound the table, wave your arms and throw your best intonation at them, but to no avail! And those who are occasionally looking at you are doing so with a clear look of feigned interest, the same sort of dull, sightless look that frequent flyers give to flight attendants as they demonstrate the use the oxygen mask.
So what’s going on here? Why did all these people come to see us just to ignore us? Are we boring them? No, but the audience has been offered a better, more irresistible experience that they can’t ignore. Behind us, on a screen the size of a brownstone, is a visual display of brain candy, some Prezi magic that’s streaming tweets from the audience, a cacophony of highlights, commentary, analysis, jokes and criticism. It was like streaming heroin, and everyone had become addicted and were loath to turn away. They were like rubberneckers driving by a car accident who are praying that they don’t see a dead body (or slamming tweet), while praying that they do. Even EYE wanted to be looking back at the feed instead of listening to us!
Why would they listen to real voices drone on when the really good stuff is being digitally filtered for them. It’s the difference between reading a press release and a news article that puts it all into perspective. We’ve grown up in a sound-bite culture driven by television news shows that do things like condense 45-minute interviews with a U.S. President loaded with content down to, ‘Americans demand jobs!.” (Okay, I concede the sound-bite quote was awesome whenever George Bushisms, like: ”Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”) In a hurried society, sound-bites of information without context are the new norm.
- One was doing the listening, translating and interpreting what was being said. This takes the skill of a seasoned United Nations translator or a graphics recorder, those people who draw speeches on huge boards in real time, like my friend Sunni Brown (I hope you went to her wonderful SketchCamp yesterday!). You have to somehow listen to what’s being said while, AT THE SAME TIME, translating what has already been said into another language (verbal or visual).
- The rest were mostly ignoring us and reading the Twitter feed.
Hundreds of people came to hear us. That’s my wife, Dorsey, in green, and Charlie’s wife, Elena, next to her. Even THEY were watching the Twitter feed. Dorsey tried to make me feel better by saying it was a horrible distraction (that I think, like everyone, she loved to read it!)
But you know what, we didn’t mind…
Give a stick a good story and the stick becomes more than a stick, better than the stick it was. (It’s Harry Potter’s lost wand!) Well, that can happen with a bar, and even a conference.
Last night I sat in a dark, tiny, brick room that was exactly the size of a full-size mattress. I know this because just a few short months ago the room had been one of five in the back of a narrow brothel called Midnight Cowboy’s Oriental Massage on Austin’s Sixth active Street and a mattress fit squarely on the floor, stretching wall-to-wall. At six-four-four inches tall, I could not have fit on it without lying at a diagonal. The brothel had been shut down and converted into a very fancy bar that only served about 15 cocktails.
As I sat with five other people crammed along high-backed sofas that ran along two sides the room I couldn’t stop staring at the floor imagining all of the “massaging” that had gone on there for years. I swear I could clearly SEE people down there, as though there were eight (or maybe nine..ten?) of us in the room. It was oddly voyeuristic.
So the bar became more than the bar, better than the bar, because it had a story.
I’m looking for the story behind SXSW that makes it more than just another conference for a specific tribe. As I observed the attendees, and they are fun to observe, it amazed me how so many thousands of people can all look alike, sort of brainy, nerdy, attractive, cool fashionista-type. The “attractive,” “cool,” “fashionista” part is the news item for me. In my high school days these people would have all been members of:
- the short wave and AM/FM ‘radio’ club
- the computer club
- the animation club (I was its only member, and no on knew it existed)
- the chess club
- the AV club
- the honor society
But only the brainy-nerdy description would have applied to these kids; they were certainly not cool and most were certainly not cheerleader and quarterback attractive.
I was a nerd in high school. I was spit on in the showers by the football team (seriously), called fatso by beautiful girls and chased through shopping malls by bullies. I had a very weak support group, whereas I felt these evil doers were being cheered on by the whole school.
As long as there are meatheads, there will be bullies in school, but thanks to the internet, the nerd club is a strong one, and here at SXSW I’ve found my tribe, because I know their story.
When I was younger —about 30 YEARS younger— I believed that to be a bona fide and respected painter I had to reproduce the subject of my painting perfectly, with ultimate realism, and I worked hard to achieve that. I was (and still am) a huge Renaissance fan and wanted to be a modern-day Leonard or Michaelangelo and equal their mastery of all things sfumato. A painting could take days, weeks, even a year or two. I say years because painting this way for an impatient A.D.D. person like me was tedious and boring. I would cling to tiny successes, like completing the perfect apple or cloud, often just a fraction of the overall effort that would be needed to complete such a painting with the teeny brushes that such detail demands.
Then, for a long time I decided that I hated painting. It was no fun. I liked the results, but not the journey to get there.
Then I started to age …
With age has come greater self-knowledge and acceptance of what I can and can not abide. With maturity I’ve stopped trying to emulate other people in my art. A few short years ago I decided to give painting another shot, to try to find my own voice, which meant embracing my impatience and letting the brush strokes fall where they may. My painting is looser, and somehow, more real, and I like it. A lot.
I’ve learned to impress myself, and though I’m a much tougher critic than a bunch of 500-year-old dead painters, I find the rewards of achieving personal satisfaction about the best motivator for personal growth there is.